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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz suffered through eight consecutive losses before getting their first win of the season and six more setbacks before recording their second win, but thanks to healthy players and a backcourt finding their shot the Jazz have won two in a row and three of their last four.
The latest: a 109-103 victory over the Houston Rockets Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz blew a 16-point halftime lead in a loss to the Rockets earlier in the season. This time, the Jazz lost another double-digit lead, but Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke made play after play to keep the Jazz in the game. The trio combined for 71 points in the six-point win.
Hayward, a career 44.2 percent shooter from the field, was as cold as he had been all season, if not his career, in his first eight games where he shot under 43 percent twice. In the nine games prior to the victory over the Rockets he didn’t shoot over 43 percent once.
Against the Rockets and their star James Harden, Hayward shot 66.7 percent en route to a season-high 29 points, including 17 points in the first quarter.
“It’s good to see the ball go in the hoop,” Hayward said. “It’s been bugging me recently and I just tried to go out there and attack and play with confidence. I got going early so that gives you a rhythm and I just played freely.”
By the end of first quarter the Jazz opened a 13-point lead at 36-23, but the Rockets battled back.
The Jazz hit an offensive slump while the Rockets were heating up in the second quarter. The 13-point lead slipped to single digits. Jazz starters returned when the lead was down to seven. At one point the Rockets actually took the lead, but the Jazz battled back to end the half up three, 53-50.
“We got out of our offensive sets some and they had us scattered a little bit there,” said Utah coach Tyrone Corbin. “We got to get better there. We changed the rotation of how we sub in the second half. We want to be able to give guys some rest and give guys some minutes with a different group. We got to get better there. I thought in that second quarter we struggled there."
Corbin put Burks with the second unit to score the basketball. His best attribute is his ability to score, but he was cold in the first half. His season has been up and down, but during the last win in Phoenix he found his shot.
Burks wasn’t able to carry it on in the first half, but when the scoring load fell on him in the third quarter and heading down the stretch he was able to make the plays when he needed to.
Burks ended the night with 21 points for his first 20-point game of the season since game one, and hit shot from all over the court. He hit a season-high three 3-point shots, and made 63 percent of his shots, second-best of the season. He shot 66.7 percent Nov. 1 against Phoenix.
Defensively, Burks and Hayward spent time checking Harden. While Harden got his offense going, it wasn't easy for him. The battle between Hayward and Harden was especially intense, but Burks was able to check Harden late in the game to frustrate him and at least make him work for his points.
Offensively, the Jazz finally look like they have a purpose, while the defense has rotation and energy. They actually look like an NBA team. It has only been a few games, but it has been noticeable.
The Jazz have a full compliment of players and that's biggest difference between now and earlier in the season. Marvin Williams and Burke, playing in just his seventh game of the season, have provided the biggest impact. Now that Burke is health the team has relied on him for big play and big shots.
“It’s just building chemistry,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “Trey does a good job of finding guys, and just making plays for himself and making plays for other guys. It’s fun to play with him.”
The moment never seemed to big for the rookie from Michigan. The Jazz were up two with 4:18 left in the game and Houston's Dwight Howard just threw down an alley-oop from Harden. Momentum was teetering toward the Rockets.
On the ensuing possession the Jazz burned more than a minute off the clock thanks to a pair of offensive rebounds before Burke dished to Favors under the basket for an easy lay-up to increase the lead back to four.
Houston's Aaron Brooks hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one and Burke calmly took 18 seconds off the clock and attacked 6-foot-11 Howard, one of the top defenders in the league, and after a defensive switch and Burke drove to the hoop and hit a lay-up.
Williams' 3-pointer proved to be the dagger to increase the Utah lead to eight. On the play, Burke stayed on the left side of the court before attacking. As the Houston defense collapsed, he flipped the ball out to Hayward who quickly moved it to a wide-open Williams, who knocked down the shot.
The Jazz closed the game with Burke, Burks, Hayward, Williams and Favors, essentially the same line they closed the game in Phoenix. Richard Jefferson was in for the last minute of the game to shoot free throws for the Jazz, who have won two straight.
For a team rebuilding they may not see a streak longer than two games, but if the Jazz do find a way to extend it, the backcourt of Burke, Burks and Hayward will be the key.